Scientists have given essential fats (a.k.a. essential fatty acids or EFAs) their name because the body must have them to survive, but cannot synthesize them from any other substance we eat, so a direct food source is required. Hence, the name essential.
There are many kinds of fats, but only two kinds of essential fats: omega 3 (omega-3 or w3) and omega 6 (omega-6 or w6), both of which are unsaturated fats. Each EFA is turned into several derivatives by the body, provided enough omega-3 and omega-6, in the right ratio, and made with health in mind, are supplied. All other fats, such as omega 9 (monounsaturated), omega 7, and saturated fat, are non-essential because the body can produce them from sugars and starches.
Sources of omega-3s are flaxseeds and green leafy vegetables. The omega-3 derivatives EPA and DHA are found in high fat, cold water fish such as albacore tuna, sardines, Atlantic halibut and salmon, coho, pink and king salmon, Pacific and Atlantic herring, Atlantic mackerel, and lake trout. Small amounts of EPA and DHA omega-3s are also found in oysters and other shellfish.
Omega-6 is found in sesame and sunflower seeds and other seeds and nuts. Land animal meats and fish are sources of the omega-6 derivative arachidonic acid (AA). The fish listed above are preferred sources of omega-3 and omega-6 derivatives, because they are the richest sources, and contain both, with more omega-3s.
Increase energy, performance, and stamina. EFAs enhance thermogenesis, help build muscle, prevent muscle break down, and speed recovery from fatigue;
Strengthen the immune system. EFAs make hormone-like eicosanoids that regulate immune and inflammatory responses. Omega-3s have anti-inflammatory effects and can slow autoimmune damage;
Lower most risk factors for cardiovascular disease. EFAs (especially n3s) lower abnormally high levels of blood pressure, triglycerides, Lp(a), fibrinogen, tendency to clot formation, and inflammation;
Improve brain function: mood, intelligence , behavior, and vision. Our brain is over 60% fat. EFAs are important components of the entire nervous system. They are necessary to make the neurotransmitter serotonin. Depression and other brain diseases show decreased levels of omega-3;
Aid in weight reduction. EFAs help keep mood and energy up and suppress appetite, thereby aiding in weight loss. More recently, they have been found to block the genes that produce fat in the body (saturated and Trans Fat do not have this same effect) and increase thermogenesis;
Regulate organs and glands. Liver and kidneys, adrenal and thyroid glands, and the production of male and female hormones need EFAs;
Speed recovery and healing. EFAs are necessary for cell growth and division. They form all cell membranes and regulate vital cell activity;
Support healthy child development. For nervous system development, a growing fetus needs optimum EFAs from the mother's body. Mothers become depleted of EFAs during pregnancy, and need optimal EFA intake for their health and their children's optimum development:
Improve digestion. Poorly digested foods tie up the immune system and can cause gut inflammation, leaky gut, and allergies. Omega-3s improve gut integrity, and decrease inflammation and "leaky gut";
Decrease infection. EFAs have anti-fungal, anti-yeast, and anti-microbial properties, helping to protect against infections;
Keep bones strong. EFAs aid in the transport of minerals that keep bones and teeth strong, helping to prevent osteoporosis;
Protect genetic material. EFAs regulate gene expression, and omega-3s inhibit tumor growth;
Ease PMS. Studies indicate that omega-6 (GLA) intake was voted, by women, among the top three most effective PMS treatments. Omega-3s may be even more effective;
Produce beautiful skin, hair, and nails. Some of the first signs of EFA deficiency are dry, flaky skin, dull hair, and brittle nails. omega-3s can help skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and acne. Also, GLA (omega-6 derivative) administration is useful for some patients with atopic eczema.